Adapted from Daniel Clay’s novel, Broken is a story of fractured families and mental illness that seeks to peek behind the net curtains of suburbia through the eyes of child protagonist Skunk (Lawrence). Skunk and her older brother (Milner) live with their single dad Archie (Roth) in a quiet close. Their neighbours are the Oswalds, another single parent family of a father and three daughters, and older couple the Buckleys, who have a teenage son Rick (Emms) who is a little ‘strange’. When Bob Oswald (a frightening Kinnear) discovers a condom in his eldest daughter’s room he goes on the rampage. A man with a violent hair trigger temper who is fiercely devoted to his children, Bob assaults Rick when he is erroneously told by his daughter that Rick had raped her. The attack leads to a catastrophic mental breakdown and Rick is sectioned.
This story and its repercussions form the spine of the film, but it is also comprised of several other storylines. Including that of Kasia (Marjanovic), Archie’s housekeeper who is in a frustrating relationship with a teacher, Mike (Murphy), with a fear of commitment. Mike regularly visits when Archie is on business, and despite his fights with Kasia, Skunk has an obvious crush on him.
Skunk has also met a local boy Dillon with whom she has a faltering childhood romance. This is mirrored by her brother and one of the Oswald sisters, much to Skunks incomprehension.
All these stories entwine and mingle in a multi stranded film that is more concerned with mood and character than narrative. For two thirds it is absolutely excellent, but in the final act it collapses into melodrama and a plot dénouement that I feel (and I am picking my words very carefully to avoid spoilers) presented a rather reactionary moral that seemed contrary to what had gone before.
However there is a great deal to enjoy and admire here. Broken is a fine looking film with a very interesting editing strategy. The story is linear, but the editing of individual scenes is not, often showing the end of a scene first, then going back to the start to show you how it got there. It works really well and the film is suspenseful and surprising (until that overly melodramatic final act).
The cast are uniformly superb. It is unfair to single individual performances out, but a few demand comment. Rory Kinnear, currently playing M’s PA in Skyfall, is genuinely frightening as a violent and self righteous father, but also one that both loves his daughters unconditionally and selflessly (there is a great scene of him doing ironing, there is no more selfless an act for a man in my opinion). Roth underplays beautifully in a part that is quite unlike his usual roles. A quiet man, but one of compassion and strength, Roth hits just the right notes. However the performance that dominates the film is that of newcomer Eloise Lawrence (the daughter of actors Larry Lamb and Claire Burt (who plays the mother of the unfortunate Rick). In her first screen credit, Lawrence is assured, confident and charismatic enough to hold the whole film together. The delicate relationship between her and Roth is properly touching. It helps that Skunk is a great character, smart and rebellious, but with a child’s tendency to misinterpret the adult world.
Broken is ultimately flawed, but a terrific debut for director Rufus Norris who is sure to be a hot ticket. The problems may be inherent in the source novel, and credit must also go to screenwriter O’Rowe (writer of Boy A and the excellent Intermission) for a brave if not entirely successful adaptation.
EXTRAS ★★★ Interviews with director Rufus Norris, producer Dixie Linder, writer Daniel Clay and cast members Tim Roth, Eloise Laurence, Cillian Murphy, Bill Milner, Rory Kinnear and more (88:24); Q&A at Hackney Picture House, featuring Laurence and Norris (16:12); and the theatrical trailer.